Sultan M Hali
THE above title is from my Op-Ed of February 24, 2003, which was written in the aftermath of the fatal air crash of a Pakistan Air Force Fokker F-27 on February 20, 2003 in which then Air Chief Mushaf Ali Mir perished along with his wife and fifteen other officers and men near Kohat. The entire nation was shocked by the news of the sudden and unprecedented death of a serving Air Chief along with two Air Vice Marshals, four officers from his personal staff, seven crew members and an official photographer from PAF’s Directorate of Public Relations. The Air Chief, accompanied by his wife and Principal Staff Officers was on his way to inspect the Kohat Air Base, when the ill fated aircraft crashed at the Taulanj Mountain near Gambat village, some 17 miles west of Kohat.
Breaking tradition and overwhelmed by emotions, the President delivered a special tribute to Air Chief Marshal Mushaf Ali Mir, calling him “a personal friend.” Eulogizing the departed soul, Musharraf stated: “The loss which the Pakistan Air Force and the country have suffered is so great that I cannot prevent myself from speaking.” The President described the Air Chief as “a brave man and a source of courage to others.” At that instance it had struck me that of the seventeen coffins draped in the National Flag, placed on the PAF tarmac, waiting for funeral prayers, President could only think of the Air Chief, whom he had appointed after superseding five senior Air Marshals but did not have a single word for other sixteen whose mortal remains were awaiting burial and who had perished in the same air accident.
At that instance, I had composed in my mind and later penned a tribute to one of the humble souls, also a victim of the same catastrophe, Corporal Technician Amjad Pervez. Air Vice Marshal Abdur Razzaq who also met his Maker in the same air accident, was my school and entry mate. We belonged to the same house in PAF Public School Sargodha and were very close friends, yet for him the air crash was a relief since he had been diagnosed with a terminal disease only a few months earlier and would otherwise have met an agonizing and prolonged end.
Amjad Pervez, who had joined PAF at an early age of 22, hailed from the village of Chak Sikandar, tehsil Sarai Alamgir. His father, Muhammad Nawaz, who was a war veteran having seen action in both 1965 and 1971 Indo Pak Wars, was a role model for young Amjad, who opted to join PAF. After his basic training, he was assigned the Photo-Trade. In 1997, when the nation was celebrating its Golden Jubilee, PAF was in need of able photographers to cover the various events planned. As then Director Public Relations of PAF, I invited photo-trade technicians from various bases to induct them for the task ahead. After a thorough screening, written and practical tests, Amjad was one of those selected because of his professional capabilities as well as positive and cooperative attitude. He was only a Junior Technician then and I was advised by the senior photographers of my Directorate that he had limited experience and I should opt for more senior tradesmen.
Amjad’s ready smile, easy demeanour and confidence as well as his height of six foot three inches which enabled him to take photos above heads of crowds, prompted me to select him. During the four years that I spent as his Director, Amjad justified confidence reposed in him. Covering VIP visits, professional military exercises, special parades, air accident sites as well as events related to Indo-Pak tensions and visiting forward and operational bases, Amjad never demurred or shied away from any challenge; bringing back outstanding results, worthy of any international publication.
After my retirement from PAF in 2001, I would come across Amjad covering various events. He would greet me with respect and candour, referring to me as his mentor. A week before the fatal air crash, I met Amjad at another PAF event. He informed me that he was posted out of the Directorate of Public Relations and was headed for a fighter base. I wished him well; little did I know that it would be our last meeting. When I learnt of the air crash, grief stricken, my first inquiry was regarding names of the staff accompanying Air Chief. Of the aircrew, three were my students, while each of officers was personally known to me, it was Amjad, whose loss I felt the most, because he had been married two years earlier and was recently blessed with a daughter.
Fourteen years later, on February 1, 2017, the current Director Public Relations, whose designation has now been changed to Director Media Affairs, requested Air Chief Marshal Sohail Aman, the current Air Chief to inaugurate the newly built state-of-the-art auditorium at the Directorate, named after Corporal Tech Amjad Pervez Shaheed. It was a simple and solemn affair but it was heartening that Amjad’s two brothers were invited to the ceremony. In his magnanimity, ACM Sohail Aman invited Amjad’s brothers to cut the ribbon to inaugurate the auditorium.
Besides paying glowing tributes to Amjad and presenting a giant portrait of the Shaheed to his brothers, the Air Chief inquired of Amjad’s family and on learning that his daughter is now in class eight but his widow is not keeping good health, ACM Sohail Aman gave directions for the welfare of the family. The Director Media Affairs also took this opportunity to show case the achievements and challenges of his Directorate. It is inspiring to see that PAF is making optimum utilization of technology and despite scarce resources, is up to the task of presenting a high image of PAF.
—The writer is retired PAF Group Captain and a TV talk show host.